A double-edged sword

May 25, 2011 | Viewpoints | Number 11
Melissa Miller |

Divorce can be seen as a double-edged sword that cuts two ways, with the potential to bring both pain and healing. With one edge, it ends a marriage and there is great loss and brokenness. At the same time, the sword of divorce severs what has died, and, in doing so, creates new possibilities of life and health. This metaphor was given to me decades ago by a Mennonite pastor whose own parents had divorced when he was a teenager. I have leaned on its wisdom many times as I’ve been invited to walk with those experiencing divorce.

Currently in Canada, 40 percent to 50 percent of marriages are ending in divorce, a dynamic that affects all of us. As Christians, we hold a core value of marriage as a lifelong covenant. At the same time, we hold a value of wholeness and abundant living. Sometimes these values of marriage commitment and personal welfare are in tension. Many of us find ourselves in-between an ideal of marriage “till death we do part” and the reality that we are unable to keep the commitments we have made. If we aren’t in the numbers who have personally experienced marriage break-up, we are surely in the community of family and friends where divorce has been present.

Often the cause of marriage-ending is clear. Abuse, addiction and adultery are identified as covenant-breakers. To that list, I add abandonment, where a partner is physically or emotionally unavailable to provide faithful support and presence. Sometimes the life of a marriage has been sapped by great loss, such as the death of a child or the cost of chronic mental or physical illness. On some occasions, there is a less clearly defined reason, but the outcome is the same.

So how do we respond in our families and in our churches when a marriage ends? May I suggest we learn from those who are “walking the walk”? Those who know marriage break-up from the inside are our best teachers, with much to offer, borne from their own experience. Here are some things I have learned from those who have known divorce.

Much agony and struggle go before the decision to separate. Divorce is a painful alternative to a deeper pain of living a lie, or attempting to bear what has become unbearable. It requires courage and strength to end a marriage. Living in a dead marriage is a kind of hell; afterwards, people often wish they would have had the means to end the marriage sooner.

Some friends and family members will turn away when a marriage falls apart, and that hurts. At the same time, surprising companions will come alongside, to share tears or a hug; they are a treasure.

Even if people abandon those who divorce, God does not. In fact, God’s grace becomes known in ways that they would previously not have imagined. Many people say that in the season of separation and divorce, they encounter the full scope of God’s abundant grace and unending love. Perhaps they received the new life that comes when the sword of divorce cuts away what has died.

For my part, I believe it’s still possible to hope for—and work towards—lifelong marriages even as we claim God’s unfailing grace to guide us when marriages end.

Melissa Miller (familyties@mts.net) lives in Winnipeg, where she ponders family relationships as a pastor, counsellor and author.

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